A libertarian argument for public property
TL;DR: Freedom literally cannot exist without a network of uninterrupted lands that can be entered, exited, and freely travelled through without seeking consent from an owner.
As far as I can tell, mainstream right-libertarianism maintains that positive rights do not exist, with a single exception: there is a positive right to enforcement of negative rights. In other words, a government should exist to protect negative rights from infringement and to punish those infringements (a sassier way of putting it would be that the government exists to protect individuals from other governments). This argument doesn’t apply to ancaps, probably, because they don’t agree with this central premise.
This typically provides for the existence of a police force, the enforcement of private property ownership, and the enforcement of contracts, as well as a military for national defense. Without these, even negative rights last about as long as it takes for you to say, “negative rights”, and any erosion in one negative right quickly leads to the negation of the rest; without the ability to defend yourself, you can be subjected to violent coercion in violation of your other rights, without freedom of expression and association you find yourself unable to organize opposition to the dismantling of your other freedoms.
There is, however, a negative right I see neglected in libertarian arguments, despite its necessity in maintaining the others: the freedom of movement. Without the ability to travel, it is impossible to use your freedom of association, and without that right protected, all others will eventually be eroded through the consolidation of power. If you can’t go somewhere else, you are subject entirely to the authoritarian whims of whoever owns the property you are on, and the ones adjacent, and this is increasingly true in a world where all property is either claimed or protected.
In a world where the right to travel is not protected, a wealthy but malevolent person could purchase all the land around the land of another (either party could be a group of people, it is irrelevant to the hypothetical), and restrict their access to the outside world. They could make essentially any demand, and the people on the enclosed land would have the choice to either comply, starve, or face the consequences of trespassing; this is indistinct from slavery.
Those without the fortune to own property would be even worse off, and I’m unsure that it would be actually possible to ever progress beyond renting in many places, as an unscrupulous employer could easily contract with similarly unscrupulous neighbors to prevent any exit from their property. In both of these situations, there is an obviously large incentive to use these methods to obtain labor and resources at minimal cost.
In the modern world, this problem is solved through a combination of public property and easements. Any owner of a property without direct access to a public road can establish a path through another person’s property that allows them access. If that person doesn’t work with the landlocked owner, they can file a lawsuit, and the court will award them an easement that them have the legal right to travel on, with or without the consent of the owner of the road-adjacent property. Without both roads and easements, the only other option to preserve the rights of a landlocked owner is to completely legalize trespass. Similarly, the ability to leave a private property without requiring the consent of another property owner requires either the existence of public lands, or the legalization of trespass.
Legalizing trespass would be an enormous erosion of private property rights and would essentially redefine the term. I fail to see any other way that the freedom of movement can be preserved without the existence of public property, and I fail to see a way that any other freedom can be preserved without the guaranteed ability to escape the authority of any private property owner, even neighbors, by going somewhere that is not privately owned. Furthermore, all public land must be accessible without crossing into private land, or we encounter the same problem of enclosure on a larger scale.
If you have solutions to this problem that differ from mine and don’t rely on everyone acting benevolently against their economic interest, I am interested in hearing them (and I assume that they must exist as I see so many libertarians advocate for the end of all public property, and even more frequently the privatization of all roads), but I have been unable to find a solution.
Disclaimer: I am not a libertarian, but I find arguing from various points of view interesting and I’ve been cooking this one in my head for a while. I haven’t seen it used before, and I would like to know if there is a particular flaw in it to explain why it isn’t prevalent. This isn’t an argument against libertarianism, but an argument that public roads are necessary for the preservation of negative rights in a libertarian framework.
Article from r/Libertarian: For a Free Society